Week 16 Takeaways: Steelers honor Franco, take win from Raiders

Regardless of how bitterly cold it was at Acrisure Stadium on Christmas Eve, the Pittsburgh Steelers honored the memory of Hall of Famer Franco Harris in more ways than one when they took the win from the Las Vegas Raiders in the final seconds of NFL Week 16’s game.

Typically, my post game takeaways focus solely on what happened in the game. This week, though, some Festivus-like grievances need to be aired.

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Curse the snow, the two missed field goals, the interception, and jump on the Twitter train that saw Steelers fans berating the team for a performance in the first half (an ugly habit that’s progressively gotten worse across social media) they felt was demeaning to the memory of No. 32.

Unfortunately, it was activity unbecoming of even the most die-hard fans of the black and gold; more offensive to the memory of a storied franchise who earned a historical place in NFL history due to having one player make a big play by being in the right place at just the right time than what was actually happening in the game Saturday night.

I dare say Franco wouldn’t have approved; he was a quiet, humble man that had the good fortune to make that nearly impossible grab that became the famous “Immaculate Reception.”

On a night where the world was watching, I was embarrassed by many of the comments directed towards the Steelers on social media, especially for Harris’ family and friends – including his widow and son in attendance for the retiring of Franco’s jersey.

On Christmas Eve, and an already special night, it would have been nice to see individuals temper their own expressiveness out of respect, especially when they were making accusations about respect to begin with.

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Now to the game…

Saturday night was more than just a memorial game; it was a litmus test to see if a very young Pittsburgh team (based on average age of players on both sides of the ball) could stand under bright lights and the microscope and put everything together.

It may not have been a blowout, or even pretty to watch, but a ton of character was revealed in the positive way adversity was addressed in the win.

When Kenny Pickett threaded the needle to George Pickens in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown, the elevated emotion on the field showed what determination and a realized identity looks like. The pressure was on. And, in the final seconds of a game that saw errors by both teams play out on the gridiron, the Steelers looked like a committed team.

The level of confidence in the Steelers was low. Analysts, experts, fans… they all felt the game might be just too big for Pickett to manage as the game clock wound down. It obviously wasn’t.

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The Steelers defense struggled when the Raiders started things off with a 14 play drive for 72 yards that was capped off by a Hunter Renfro touchdown reception from Derek Carr. And, then, they accepted the gut check, locked in, and locked things down.

Pittsburgh didn’t allow Las Vegas’ offense to gain more than 20 yards on any other possessions except one afterwards.

The Steelers limited the league’s leading rusher, Josh Jacobs, to just 44 yards on 15 carries. They gave up just two receptions for 15 yards to Davante Adams who entered the game with 1,200-plus yards receiving and an NFL-leading 12 touchdown catches.

Add on three interceptions of Carr by the Steelers secondary, and the word “dominant” should be on everyone’s lips when they discuss Pittsburgh’s defense.

“I think for us, it was a tip of the cap to not only just a Steelers legend [in Franco Harris], but a great man, a person in this community who you could always count on, a guy when he retired, he still wanted to be your teammate.” – Cameron Heyward

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The Steelers needed their more veteran counterparts to carry the heavy load, and in this game they saw their young players catch up at the right time. Pat Freiermuth, Najee Harris, Jaylen Warren… they all made impacts as well.

While the defensive front was earning stops, the offensive front earned a major achievement. Maxx Crosby, bound for the Pro Bowl this season and a terror with a wingspan that matches that of a pterodactyl, did get hits on Pickett. The offensive line, tight ends, and backs kept him from putting Pickett onto the turf for a sack, however.

The Steelers’ playoff hopes are still alive, even if it’s a very small margin that they’ll sneak into post-season play. Regardless, of all games this season, Saturday night gave fans a much clearer picture of what this team may look like in the future.

That all-in team mentality that kept them fighting to take the win from the Raiders is just the kind of spirit Franco Harris possessed. And that is a great way to honor a man who meant so much to a franchise that was created to represent a city that knew it took grit and hard work to find success.

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